Ali Blythe is a poet based in Vancouver. His poem “Waking in the Preceding” was the winner of the Vallum Award for Poetry 2017. With the deadline for this year’s Vallum Award for Poetry quickly approaching, we caught up with Ali to discuss his process and the role of poetry in today’s world.
You were the winner of the Vallum Award for Poetry 2017 for your poem “Waking in the Preceding.” How did you feel when you found out the news?
I felt the unnameable feeling when one imagines Nicole Brossard, who judged the contest, putting a finger on one’s poem and making some susurrus of yes/oui.
Tell me a little bit about “Waking in the Preceding.” What ideas or thoughts generated the poem? What was your process of writing it?
Have you ever read Haruki Murakami? He is a writer with obsessions. To name a few: jazz bars, preparing food, people wandering into slipstream worlds they can’t escape, and cats. He has a story about a town of cats, which combines the last two.
My obsession is “things you can only get at through movement,” like poems, love, and time. My process and thoughts for “Waking in the Preceding,” which is the first poem in a new book called Hymnswitch, were generated much like the moment in the air for the desert hare who has sharply dodged the dog, then jumps over the answer to the physical reconcilement of its questioning.
Every few years the old argument that “poetry is dead” will resurface, but despite the claims that poetry is irrelevant, people continue to read it and write it. What do you think is the role of poetry in the contemporary world?
I have recently been on the Writers Trust jury for the Dayne Ogilvie prize for emerging LGBTQ poets.
So I was sitting in my little Cat Town office being a communications professional with my boots up on my desk when my colleague, Mollie-O, asked me what I was reading. I knew she hadn’t read poetry since high school and I don’t think cared for it much then, but I tossed her Ben Ladouceur’s Otter. She opened the book to the middle and started to read. Her eyes grew big and she said “What is this? What is this?” She read a stanza or two aloud and said, ”My brain is tingling!” and, “The feeling is going down my arm!” We talked about the line unit vs the sentence unit and how they run two tracks simultaneously, connections and disconnections, and if she would read any more poems. Which she has. A couple from the most recent Vallum, actually, mine and another she had to keep closing to fight back the welling tears. Adele Graf’s “Memory.”
And finally, what are you reading right now? Which poets or works have been exciting to you recently?
I’ve been reading Anne-Marie Turza’s Slip Minute, due out with Baseline Press this fall. I have been privy to her copy 1 of 75, which I find every ounce aching, beautiful, ominous, and funny. Speaking of slipstream worlds with no escape and why would you want to anyway.
Ali Blythe is editor-in-chief of the Claremont Review, an international magazine for young writers. His first book, Twoism, was a finalist for the BC Book Awards, and he received an honour of distinction from the Writers Trust of Canada for emerging LGBTQ writers.
You can read Ali’s poem “Waking in the Preceding,” which was the winner of the Vallum Award for Poetry 2017, in Vallum Issue 15:1 “Memory and Loss.”
Don’t forget to submit to the Vallum Award for Poetry 2018!
First place receive $750 and publication in the upcoming issue of Vallum.
Our judge this year is Griffin Poetry Prize winner Liz Howard.
Deadline: July 15th 2018
For more information and to enter online today, visit our website.